Models in Bottles

Building ships in bottles from scratch

December 29, 2015

Ship in Bottle 2 (part 3/4)

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I did indeed choose to paint the ends of each spar white, including the bowsprit.  I also painted the bottom of the masts black. You can see in the picture below that I added spars off the back for a gaff sail. I ended up doing this exactly as I described on a previous post as diagrammed here.

shroud lines closeup
Drilled holes through the masts and through the hull for shroud lines

I like five shroud lines per mast just because I think it looks good. These holes through the hull are significantly more uniform than on my previous ship, but they're still going to need to be covered, which I'll get to in part 4 of this build.

I learned that if I set my Dremel down on the table and place wood under the hull I can bring the hull up to the right height for drilling these holes. Bringing the hull to the Dremel works better than doing it the other way around. I'm not sure I'll ever learn to get these perfect without a drill press, but if you have any ideas, please leave me a comment.

The shroud lines are pretty easy. I use one arm-length piece of thread per mast and tie a fat knot in one end. Then I just thread it through the hull (yes I use a needle), up through the mast, and back through the hull again. Repeat until you run out of holes. There's a few ways to finish, and if you're going to cover your holes like I am, it's easiest to just glue the end of the line where you would be entering the hull for a sixth pass.

Now for the rest of the rigging.

model ship rigging
Clean shot for visibility

model ship rigging color coded
Color coded shot for clarity

Yellow and red threads: I drilled a hole in front of the main mast and at the very back of the ship. Then, using one length of thread per mast, tied a knot at the end and fed it up from the bottom of the ship. I like to loop it around spars, including the tops of masts, as I encounter them and secure with a small drop of glue (four arrows in the picture). It helps me keep the line taut as I go. 

Blue and green threads: I tied these around the masts (two stars in picture) at the height where the shroud lines go through. I also like to cover my knots in glue and then snip off the extra thread when the glue dries.

I should add that the red and green threads just pass alongside the foremast on their way to the bowsprit. They don't connect to the foremast in any way.

At this point I decided to add another detail: little draped lines hanging off the yards. I'm really glad I did this and I'll do it every time I make a square sail in the future. It was, however, a huge pain in the ass because I did it wrong.

First, here's what it looks like:

rigged yards
Drapey threads hanging off the horizontal spars

So all I really did here is cut a small thread, glue it to the end of the spar where the white tip is, drape it to the center, and glue it to the back of the spar in front of the mast. So each line goes from end-to-center, not end-to-end. That means I had to do this twelve times and say a lot of bad words. Next time I'm going to do this before I mount the spars to the mast.

Let's add some sails and call it a day.  I created my sails using leftover coffee-stained paper from my last ship. I didn't really know what I was doing so I cut sort of rectangular shapes where one side is wider than the's a quadrilateral of some sort (after googling, it's a trapezoid. Duh)

square rigged brig
Can you tell my bottom sail is upside down? Oops, I'll fix that at the end of this post.

ship and cat
Cat for scale

rigged ship from rear
Don't those drapey threads look nice with the sails in place?

There's no real trick that I can share here. I just kind of cut some trapezoids on plain paper until I find the size that works for a given sail. Then I curve it around a pen and glue the top edge to a spar. The gaff sail in the back is done the same except isn't curved.

That brings you up to speed mostly. Here's where I am right at this moment. Added two stay sails up front and a couple green flags.

fully rigged model ship
US quarter for scale

We're getting close to bottling time, but I'm going to add some more small details first, maybe an anchor and/or a deck house.

December 17, 2015

Ship in Bottle 2 (part 2/4)

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As I said before, I'm planning on making this a square rigged vessel because it poses some interesting challenges. For one thing, I need to figure out how to affix the spars to the masts in the first place. Not only that, but I need to allow them to pivot until they are parallel with the masts so that I can fit them into the bottle.

constructing square rigged masts with rotating yards
These horizontal spars (called yards) need to be able to rotate so they can be parallel to the masts because they are wider than my hull and too wide to fit through the bottle.

I'm just testing a layout in this picture and find the parallel lines on this quilters' rule help. The masts are just laying on top of the yards here. At this point I got realized I was sick of playing pick-up-sticks with toothpicks and decided to stain these pieces and call it a night.

By the next day I had an idea in mind, tested it, and found the yards could rotate (kind of a surprise). So here's what I did. First, I took both masts and put a small dot of glue on the back, then draped a thread over each dot of glue. These threads are probably about 8-10 inches long each.

gluing yards to the masts
These threads will tie the yards to my masts. Life seems easier if I secure the thread to the mast first, hence the glue.

After the glue dried I flipped the mast over, glue side down, and laid a spar roughly in place. You can wrap the thread to make an X over the front of the spar, and the thread will end up on the back side of the mast again. Double knot it there. After doing all three, I added a small dot of glue in front, in the center of the X. After all this, I find that my yards still achieve the necessary pivot action.

model ship yards connected to mast
Tie the yards to the mast using an X pattern and secure with a small drop of glue in front.

Once the glue dries, you can cut off the excess tread with a razor. There might be better ways to do this, but I haven't thought any up yet. It looks like this is going to work fine though. I'll be sure to write about it if I come up with something better.

Looking good.

Tonight I'll probably paint the ends of the spars and bowsprit white. I'm also going to add two booms on the back mast for a gaff sail. I might not write about how I do that since I'm basically going to do the same thing I did for my first ship and you can see the diagrams here.

I'll probably take some pictures and start off my next post with the process of adding the shroud lines.

December 12, 2015

Ship in Bottle 2 (part 1/4)

square rigged ship in a bottle
Final Product: Here's where we going with this tutorial

I decided on making a brig this time because it's a two masted vessel with square rigged sails. My first ship in a bottle project only had one square sail and I can tell the construction techniques need to be much different for square rigged sails than gaff sails. So, what the hell, might as well practice that, right? I'll be drawing inspiration from an actual ship this time.

USS Niagra
This is the USS Niagra, an example of a brig with its two masts and square rigged sails. (Photo credit: LanceWoodworth)

I found a great bottle for this project at Hobby Lobby for $3 and change. Something I learned from last time is that round bottles are a pain in the ass. I'm excited to work with a flat bottom this time. 

ship in a bottle sketch
I'm glad this bottle has a square shape, a rectangular prism if you want to be a dick about it.

As before, I'm starting off with a rough sketch drawn to scale. I actually traced the bottle on the paper in order to do this. The biggest reason to make a scale sketch is because I want to make sure the proportions of masts to ship length look good and I'm working with limited height. Don't forget to leave room on the sketch for the base that the ship will rest on. I eyeballed about a centimeter, but maybe in the future I'll have a more scientific way to handle this.

ship in a bottle pattern layout
Stacked some wood. Drilled some holes. Toothpick kebab.

I held the wood next to the sketch and marked the length on the wood and then I sanded the shit out of it until I found the hull in there.

model ship hull
Definitely better than my last hull but there's still room to grow.

Before I end this post, I should share that I think my last ship came out a little too, well, brown. (?) So instead of painting the hull, I'm staining it this time. I'll still almost certainly paint some details on it, but I think staining is going to be the way to go from here on out. The color is a little more orange than I'd like, but it's still a good proof of concept and I'm glad I gave it a shot.

staining the hull
Not bad. I stained a picture frame once and it turned out like shit, so this is fine.

Three body pieces, a bowsprit, and there's a rudder in there too that I haven't glued on yet. I cut the rectangle out of the top deck using a fiberglass cutting wheel on the Dremel. On my to do list is to find a better method of constructing the top of the deck. This method doesn't allow for the level of detail I'd like to incorporate.

December 2, 2015

Ship in Bottle 1 (part 3/3)

Let's add some details to our ship.  See those brown dots going all the way around and the three white dots up front? I dotted those with a toothpick.

I also bought some craft wire in WalMart's craft section and bent that into an anchor shape. I wrapped some wire around a toothpick in order to create a spool that the anchor is laying on and then I painted them gray. Finally, I glued these items to the deck.

model ship details
Added some dots and an anchor and stuff

Let's make some sails. There are going to be 7 of them on this design, but you should be aware that I've decided to add a square sail to the foremast, facing forward. I just cut two toothpicks to size and glued them onto the foremast. You should be able to see that in this picture:

model ship sail construction
Planning out the sails

To make the sails, soak some regular printer paper in coffee. You can dry it in the oven at like 200 F for a few minutes or just wait overnight. Once the paper is dry, make a bunch of parallel lines roughly a quarter inch apart, covering the front and back sides.

Next, you can cut the sails out of plain printer paper until you like the size you have and use those white blanks as templates to cut out from your coffee paper.

Gluing the sails on is pretty simple, but you can only glue one side of each sail at this point. On sails 1, 2, and 3 (referring to my drawing above, or the three largest sails) I glued the left side along the mast. The square sail in the front can actually be glued top and bottom right now though since it doesn't need to contort when we fold the masts down.

I made flags by coloring a piece of printer paper red using a Crayola marker, both sides, letting it dry, and then cutting out a pair of flag shapes with an x-acto knife. These are glued to the masts. The American flag was a real struggle. I sharpened colored pencils as much as possible and just tried to make parallel red lines over and over until I found a good run of them. Added some blue and cut out my flag. That's glued to the line and conveniently, the backside is hidden by the sail since I didn't draw on that side.

model ship full sail
Those little details go a long way. Oh yeah, sails help too.

Let's get this bad boy in the bottle. Here's a tip I wish I had thought about: square bottles are way easier to work with than cylindrical bottles. Having a flat base instead of a curved base would have made my life a lot easier.

You should be able to use your imagination in order to come up with a good way to mount your stuff to the inside of the bottle, but here's what I did. 

ship in a bottle mounting view
What a stupid picture

Basically I took a big popsicle stick and cut it to the length I wanted, yielding a rectangular plank. Then I took a smaller popsicle stick cut to the same length and glued it down the middle of the larger stick, like a spine. Now if you refer to the picture above, where we are looking at the bottle head-on, you'll see it allowed me to use the small popsicle stick to make contact with the bottle. That's where I spread some glue. This gives me a decently wide and flat base to set the ship on. I could have skipped all of this by choosing a rectangular bottle with a flat inside base.

I decided some "skis" would look nice, so I drilled two holes in the keel of my ship and inserted toothpicks and glued them into place. You can see them in this next picture.

ship in a bottle mount construction
Note the toothpicks sticking out of the keel

Then I made some skis that are just popsicle sticks cut down to an inch or so and re-rounded. I'm going to put the hull into the bottle and then I'm going to put those skis onto those toothpicks. I will then glue the skis to the base I made a moment ago.

inserting ship into bottle
Wow that was a tight fit.
That's what she said.

building ship in bottle
Oh yeah, you need some pokey things. This is me getting those skis on.

building ship in bottle
See those skis turned perpendicular to the ship? That's what we're shooting for. Slather on some glue, flip it over, and lay it down on the base.

ship placed in bottle
The bottom of the ship is done.

This image reminds me, and I apologize for not getting to it sooner, but you see the areas on the face that I dug out? There are three of them: one circle in the back and two that are basically under the masts' locations. Remember how we made the masts hinged with wire? You should dig out some space where that excess wire can go so you're not compressing it between the top and bottom halves of your ship. And the hole towards the back corresponds with the knot you made while you were rigging the back mast. Basically I had a big ass knot hanging off the under side of the deck and I needed a place for it to go.

Anyway, game on...

fold down model sails
This part feels like you're doing something wrong.

Remove the top half of the ship from your high tech stand and loosen the threads that are holding everything tight. Fold down the main mast, then the foremast. Let the biggest sails hang over the side of the hull, it's okay. 

insert ship into bottle
Giving birth in reverse

Now, with one swift move and minimal thinking, just jam everything into the bottle. Or do the opposite, your choice. A little side to side wiggling goes a long way. Make sure the bowsprit is facing the opening. You probably should have made sure of that when you put the bottom half in the bottle now that I think about it.

You're reading a guide from an absolute amateur and you're about to pay for it now. Should you put glue on the top face of the bottom of the hull before you try to get the top half in the bottle? I don't know. Probably. But that's not how I did it. I'll probably be refining this crucial moment during my next build.

building ship in bottle
You'll need to fix your sails. Pants are optional.

Once the top and bottom halves are securely glued (as in, the glue is dry enough that you trust it) you can pull the threads to erect the masts to their final positions and tape them to the outside of the bottle temporarily. Then fix the sails and/or make whatever other adjustments you need to. Maybe you want to glue the other sides of the sails at this point. Maybe they're fine already. 

Once you're done with this session, put some glue on the thread running through the bowsprit. Do this on the top of the bowsprit. Tomorrow morning, pull off the tape holding those threads and make sure the glue held. If so, use a razor blade to cut off the excess thread at the bottom of the bowsprit.

Cork your bottle, Windex it, show people, and start your next one.

I sincerely hope that I've helped someone by taking the time to type all this out. Please feel free to ask for any clarifications or post any other comments.

model ship in bottle
I didn't really like that netting, but it came on the bottle.

ship in a bottle finished
I finally ditched the netting. I'll make a stand eventually but I'm too excited to start my next ship in a bottle project.

December 1, 2015

Ship in Bottle 1 (part 2/3)

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For all of part 2, we only use the top half of the ship here, just forget about the bottom half of the hull for now.

So the first thing I did is create the bowsprit (the stick pointing out of the front of the ship). Take a look here and try not to notice the quantum leap in progress since the last picture.

model ship bowsprit
The bowsprit (left) is made from two toothpicks and is drilled securely into the hull

I took two toothpicks and held them together, wrapped thread around them in two places, then painted glue over the thread and waited for it to dry. Then I drilled four holes through them which was pretty easy with the Dremel and a set of bits I bought. In the picture, it is the bottom toothpick that is inserted into a hole I drilled into the hull and prepped with glue. The top toothpick is simply cut flush with the deck. 

Let's make the masts now. Each mast (the vertical piece) is made from two toothpicks. I fixed the two toothpicks together the same way I did the bowsprit, basically just wrapped thread and glue around them to make them taller.

Here's a layout of the masts and some holes you're going to need to drill:

model ship mast layout
You're going to have four pieces and you'll need to drill four holes as indicated.

Here's an artist's rendition of how the horizontal and angled pieces are affixed to the masts:

model ship mast construction
Uncanny reconstruction of mast connection

There's a hole drilled in the horizontal toothpick and then it is threaded around the mast. This piece needs to be able to hinge upward freely so it can be folded parallel to the mast. This is important because it allows the masts to collapse later on. I did the angled pieces towards to top of the masts the same way.

At this point you should have two masts completed, but they shouldn't be mounted on the hull yet, just cool it.

In order to mount the masts, we're going to make hinges so the masts can fold down later, so we need to drill some small holes, six to be exact, clean through the deck:

model ship drilling plan
The black circles are where the masts are going to be (aerial view). Drill 6 holes where the red indicators are.

Remember when you were sanding and you had toothpicks holding the whole thing together? My masts are going to go where those toothpicks are, not that it's required though.

The next step is to create the hinge for the masts. I used the wire from a bread tie, worked great. Fish it through the bottom of the deck, that's any hole 1 through 4 in the above image for those of you keeping score, through the mast, and into the other hole.
attach model ship mast to deck
I went up through hole #1, through the mast, and back down through hole #2. The thick red line is the path I took with my wire. Then tie the wire together on the bottom side of the deck (not pictured). Repeat for other mast. 

Verify that your masts can collapse down onto the deck so that you'll be able to fit this into the bottle.
Now we get to create shroud lines. As you complete this part, you'll look back and have that "holy shit, this is turning out great" feeling. You need to drill five holes through the side of the hull, straight through to the other side--per mast. That is, one group of five holes under the foremast and one group of five holes under the main mast.

This part is pretty easy, I just tied some thread into the hole in the mast (it's the only hole in the mast system that you haven't used yet) and then threaded it into the first shroud hole in the side of the hull, coming out the other side of the ship, back up through the mast, into the next shroud hole, through the ship, etc.

model ship shroud lines
The holes are difficult to drill. I don't know what to tell you...try hard I guess. We can cover them up later when we add details though, so don't panic.

At this point you're going to want to build a stand. Mine took me about 5 minutes to make. It's a piece of wood with a screw coming up through it that I'm able to twist the ship onto. Then I've got some screws on the left to tie threads off onto.

model ship basic rigging
High tech stuff

The basic rigging is actually pretty easy. I went through the main mast first by tying thread through the hole where the shroud lines passed through. The other end just gets threaded through the bowsprit. Easy peasy.

Next, tie a huge knot in the end of another piece of thread. Going up from the bottom of the deck through the hole at the back of the ship (hole #6), thread it through until the knot stops you. Then you can wrap once around the end of the boom, once around the end of the angled boom, once around the main mast, and then thread it through the bowsprit. I found it helpful to spread a little glue at each of these wrapping points. Wrap these lines around the screws on your stand to keep them secure.

The foremast is completed the same way, but use hole #5. You might have to remove the ship from your stand in order to thread through hole #5.

You should be impressed at this point, it's starting to look pretty awesome. See more in part 3.